This is a guest post from Jared Dees, the Digital Publishing Specialist at Ave Maria Press. He blogs at his website, The Religion Teacher, as well as Ave Maria Press’s Engaging Faith classroom resources blog. He can also be found on twitter as @jareddees.
Before you decide to jump into social media, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration. You must first ask yourself “Why?” If your decision to adopt social media strategies as a part of your parish evangelization is due to outside pressures, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
Under pressure, many organizations, including parishes and Catholic schools, are entering into the social media world for the wrong reasons. Consider the following reasons that have influenced organizations to begin using social media prematurely.
- It is a great way to share announcements. Social media is by its very nature social. Sharing information and announcements does not properly tap into the social nature of these new tools. Digital natives are trained to tune out these announcements and prefer information that they can engage in themselves.
- It is free. One of the most appealing characteristics of social media is the cost. If it is free, why wouldn’t organizations use it? Many people neglect the cost of time that engaging in social media can place on people. Not only will parishes need to create good content to share and provide updates on social networks, they will also need to invest the time needed to develop and nurture relationships online. This will be something new and challenging for many people. Building relationships is never simple and never quick, but it is always free.
- Facebook has 500 million people. Just because a lot of people are using social media does not mean that your parishioners are going to engage with your or their fellow parishioners on your Facebook Page.
- We can focus on social media and forget about our website. No matter how many social networks you join, the parish website is the most important online presence you can have. If there is a weakness in the website, efforts should be made to improve it before anything else.
- We can reach young people. Unless you involve young people in the creation and moderation of content on social media websites, they are not going to participate. Yes, young people are using social media, but their experience can really hinder a parish’s ability to connect with them if the parish does not know how to use social media correctly.
Take some time to seriously consider they ways in which your parish can use social media. Learn from others and enlist the help of people who are already active in the various social networks and proficient in using the various social media tools.
The Right Reasons for Parishes to Use Social Media
There are a number of reasons that organizations like parishes and Catholic schools begin using social media as a form of outreach prematurely. But what are the right reasons to use social media? How would a parish know they are ready?
- I can engage in conversation with parishioners. The most powerful opportunity with social media is the ability to establish and develop relationships with people you otherwise would not have been able to reach. Conversations are no longer squeezed into formal meetings or rushed in between events.
- Parishioners can engage in conversation with other parishioners. Now parishioners can connect with one another and with the parish staff through social networking sites. Connecting via social media is much easier and less involved than connecting on the phone or even by email. The opportunity is there for parishioners to develop relationships with one another that extend into actual parish events and prayerful gatherings.
- It only costs time. Using social media is free, but it does cost time. The recognition and commitment to dedicating time to using social media is a necessary first step to using it effectively. It takes time to post and engage with people in your social networks. Parishes and schools should recognize this and realize that it will be difficult to see the results of the day to day time that is spent on these websites.
- I can get more participants at events. One of the primary goals of any online outreach to parishioners should be actual physical presence at events and participation in ministries. Social networking sites allow parish staff to provide another reminder of upcoming events and ministries and to post the people and successes of those events and ministries on an ongoing basis. The more the focus is placed on the people, the more people will come to the events.
If you are beginning to use social media on a professional level or you have been using it for a long time, do not forget that at its very nature it will always remain social. This means that the foundation of social media is relationships. If you are not using the tools to build real relationships with people, then you are doing it wrong. Don’t be afraid to encourage parish staff to be active in social networks and build personal relationships with the parishioners that could blossom into attendance, involvement, and volunteerism.